Just getting back from DevLearn08 I've decided to jump into the Twitter thing. You can follow me @WillWorkLearn.

Before I fully begin my Twitter experience, here's a thought experiment regarding Twitter. If I could talk to God (or some other all-knowing entity), would it be useful for me (if I'm interested in gaining knowledge) to give up a minute of that precious time to talk with the multitudes?

No it would be foolish to give up a 100% chance of gaining true knowledge in a quickly-efficient way for a lesser chance at learning from the mulititudes. I'm assuming of course that neither God nor any other true-knowledge entity is following me on Twitter. What information-gathering entity has time for that?

Of course, knowledge is not everything I might desire. I might want to feel part of a community. I might want to make friends. I might want to do an ethnographic study of The Tworld just for fun. If this all-knowing entity was a bore or decided to use its wisdom to politely keep some personal distance from me, I would be better off talking with the multitudes. But since this is a blog that focuses on Learning, not Relationships, let's get back to the knowledge-gathering question.

Since it is unlikely that some all-knowing entity will have time for me, I will have to rely on entities that will provide me with less than 100% knowledge. If I find a 99%-true-knowledge entity, wouldn't I be better off talking with it, than talking with the multitudes? Yes, I would think so in most cases, though I suppose it depends on its knowledge gaps, and how fast I need the knowledge.

So, where is the breakeven point where I'm equally likely to get true knowledge from a true-knowledge entity and from the multitudes? Is it an 80%-true knowledge entity, a 50% true-knowledge entity, or a 20%-true-knowledge entity? 

Here's the point I think I'm making: If I have access to relatively good sources of information, how do I decide to forsake those sources for the multitudes, where information may be less valid or slower to access?

In other words, would Twitters be better off reading a non-fiction book, an article, or a trusted website?

I suppose we ought to divide our knowledge needs into categories.

  • Deep knowledge, gained over significant amounts of time, requiring a subtle understanding of a topic area, its contingencies, its boundary conditions.
  • Shallow knowledge, gained from one or a few experiences, not weaved tightly together with a network of knowledge.

If we need deep knowledge, we ought to go to a true-knowledge entity (if we know of one). If we just need shallow knowledge, we may be just as succcessful going to the multitudes.

I don't know, what do you think oh wise one?

And then there is the matter of the time horizon. I may learn small things quick or build big understandings over time by interfacing with my multitudes.

And then there is the matter of truthiness. What risk is there in getting information from the multitudes? Probably depends on the query.

I don't know, what do you think oh wise one?

WINK.

I’m writing you from the eLearning Guild’s annual conference. I went to a session presented by Silke Fleischer and colleagues at Adobe and was blown away by the work Adobe is doing to create products that support learning and related efforts. I then asked a number of industry thought leaders who confirmed my interpretation: Adobe is now a 500-pound Gorilla, likely to continue out-investing their competitors and thus creating better and better products for folks like us to use.
If you’re considering elearning tools, you owe it to your organization to consider Adobe products. I have no financial relationship with Adobe, by the way. This is not to say that other products aren’t worthy and/or do some things better than Adobe products. My thinking is this: Companies who invest in their products are often more likely to be there for you in the years to come. I’ve seen many clients who started using a particular tool five-to-ten years ago, and they are basically stuck with it because of their large installed base of learning courses.
Here are a few of the things that made me wake up and take notice:
  1. Adobe’s update cycle on Captivate seems to be shrinking, as they are aggressively moving forward in the development of Captivate 4.
  2. Captivate is being used for many purposes, including the development of Podcasts, Advertising, etc.
  3. You can embed a working Captivate file into Adobe connect and then have webinar or online-learning participants each interact with Captivate objects.
  4. PDF files can now include fully-functional interactive images. So documents are not static anymore!!
  5. Adobe is working on a new platform called AIR, which will enable the compilation of many types of objects for display and interaction.

Elliott Masie came up with a great and very insightful wish list for LMS’s. Click here to access it. He even added a few suggestions in the past few days, probably based on feedback from his loyal audience.

I really like the richness that Elliott’s suggestions might create for a typical LMS. Most LMS implementations are just a list of course offerings.

On the other hand, I worry about overly complicating options for users. Most workers just don’t have extra time to waste. Maybe the suggestion to let users rate the courses comes into play here.

I also worry about user-generated content. It can be great, could be better than what the training folks can create, could engender more engagement, could be bottom line more effective. But we should all recognize that it is a double-edge sword. User generated content could be incorrect, could be a huge waste of time, could cause the organization to leave itself vulnerable to legal liability.

Doesn’t Fix the Biggest Problem with the LMS Mentality

The biggest problem with LMS’s can’t be fixed with Elliott’s suggestions. The biggest problem is that the whole LMS face sends a powerful hidden message that "learning" is about taking courses or accessing other learning events. This "Learning Means Sitting" LMS mentality infiltrates whole organizations.

I’ve seen this recently with one of my clients, a huge retailer, where their LMS has encouraged store managers and other store leaders to focus learning time on taking courses, in lieu of coaching, learning from each other, trying things out and getting feedback, encouraging store employees to take responsibility for particular areas, etc. It’s not that they completely ignore these other learning opportunities; it’s that the LMS focuses everyones’ time and attention on courses, creating a lot of wasted effort.

To get the most from an LMS, you ought to throw away your LMS and start over. People can learn somethingdevelop competencies/skills—from courses or from other means. A competency-management system that offers multiple means to develop oneself is ideal, where courses/events are just one option. I still haven’t seen a commercial system that does this though…Most are course first designs.

Maybe I’m too over-the-top recommending that we get rid of all LMS’s. I make the statement to highlight the humongous problems that the LMS mentality is causing.

MIT researchers have developed a technology to track people’s social interactions, for example, at a conference. Check out this link to learn more.

Can we use such a technology for learning?

Certainly, we could use the technology to help people learn about their current networking tendencies and to give learners feedback as they attempt to change those tendencies. But, what other applications can we brainstorm? Let me give this a try.

  1. Leadership Simulations: Does the technology enable better in-basket simulations, or in-basket simulations that are more economical to deploy (because they don’t require the same high numbers of observer/consultants to observe interactions and provide feedback? Note: By in-basket simulations, I mean simulations in which many learner/players each play a different role, each have different in-basket tasks to accomplish, and the way they act in the simulation is by talking with other learner/players.
  2. On-the-job Leadership Activity Feedback: Imagine a retail store manager who is tasked (partially) with developing his or her people (those who work in the store). The system could track the number of interactions the store manager had with each employee, and the interactions the employees had with each other. This "intelligence" data could be used by a store manager to learn about the number of learning opportunities (i.e., coaching, providing feedback, observing, encouraging, sharing, etc.) that occur in a given period of time. Such data could be compared with "best-practice" store manager data, and store managers could use this information to change their behavior. Admittedly, quantity doesn’t equate to quality, but by tracking such social contact, managers might get a start in thinking about increasing the number of "learning opportunities."
  3. Organizational Learning. Organizations (or business units, teams, etc.) could track each other’s social networks to find out who the most networked folks are. Such information could be utilized to select for job assignments, project roles, etc., or to actively change the observed dynamics (for example, encouraging some people to spend more time in individual productive work while encouraging others to limit their isolation).

Anyway, these are some initial thoughts. I expect some enlightened simulation companies to begin brainstorming ways to use the technology to differentiate their offerings from the competition. In the meantime, can you think of any other learning opportunities inherent in the technology?

The Carbon Offset idea works like this. We all pollute, but when we do so we can help limit the damaging effects by either (1) offsetting our damage by doing good in other ways (for example if we have to drive a large car we can replace all our light bulbs with energy-saving flourescents), or (2) we can donate money to projects that help support renewable energy, energy efficiency, and reforestation. For example, check out the not-for-profit organizations CarbonFund.org and The Clean Air Conservancy.

Here’s some ideas for those of us in the training and development field:

  1. Encourage the use of e-learning, which limits the carbon footprint of travel. And, make sure you build e-learning that is effective and engaging, so more folks will want to use e-learning.
  2. When calculating the "cost" of training, calculate carbon footprint costs as well. See for example, The Carbon Fund’s calculators or The Clean Air Conservancy’s calculators. Make these costs evident.
  3. Encourage your company to buy carbon offsets when utilizing training. It’s not just a good thing to do, but it may help your company attract business and recruit highly-educated employees.
  4. In your e-learning courses, provide an option for learners to calculate how many tons of carbon dioxide they would have utilized had they had to travel from their location to headquarters.

What other ideas can you think of?

Questioning Strategies for
Audience Response Systems:
How to Use Questions to Maximize
Learning, Engagement, and Satisfaction

by Dr. Will Thalheimer

Introduction

The buzz in the learning industry is focused on e-learning, m-learning, wikis, and blogs; but one of the most powerful learning technologies is being overlooked, probably because it’s an in-the-classroom technology—audience response systems. In this research-to-practice white paper I offer a blueprint for how to use audience response systems to maximize higher-order learning in the classroom and beyond.

What One Reader Wrote to Me

Dr. Thalheimer,

Just wanted to drop you a little note this morning to express my gratitude for your paper "Questioning Strategies for Audience Response Systems: How to Use Questions to Maximize Learning, Engagement, and Satisfaction."

A friend recommended that I read it to prepare for a Higher Order Questioning staff development class that she and I are teaching together (in conjunction with some CPS [audience response] training we’re offering). To tell you the truth, I really wasn’t looking forward to reading it because I expected it to be dry and full of boring I’m-trying-to-sound-snobbily-intellectual writing, but I LOVED it. 🙂

I enjoyed your approachable style and dry sense of humor so much I read all the way through (including the endnotes!) and had many a good laugh along the way. In addition to being a blast to read, the paper challenged and inspired me to find new ways to push my questioning skills to a higher level for the next school year.

Thanks again, for the inspiration and for the great read. I’ll be checking out your website later today and hope to find that equally enjoyable.

Sincerely,

Liz Walhof

Spanish Teacher
Colorado

From the Paper’s Introduction

"Audience response systems have enormous potential for transforming lectures from dry recitals into rich jam sessions of deeply resonant learning. The technology is widely available, but the key to success is not in the technology; it’s in the instruction. To maximize meaningful learning, instructors must become adept in using questioning and discussion techniques. Unfortunately, some of us may come to believe that we can simply sprinkle our lectures with a few multiple-choice questions. This approach is emphatically inadequate, and is simply not worthy of our profession.

This report provides a near-exhaustive list of questioning strategies, and a comprehensive guide on using questions to facilitate classroom learning. No other resource exists that is research-based and comprehensive, while also being practical and useful. It has been designed specifically to provide practical guidance for trainers, teachers, and professors so that their learners—whether they are eight, forty-eight, or eighty years old—can experience deep and meaningful learning."

Special thanks to eInstruction for agreeing to license the paper for distribution to their clients. Such underwriting helps move the audience-response field forward and demonstrates an enlightened commitment to effective learning in classrooms of all types throughout the world. Other underwriting opportunities are available for research on audience-response learning. Contact Dr. Thalheimer with inquiries.

Additional Information

  • Number of Pages: 124
  • Number of Research Citations: 54
  • Publication Date: March 2007
  • Available to you Immediately as downloadable Electronic file (PDF).
  • Purchasing utilizes industry-leading security.
  • 100% Satisfaction Guaranteed.
  • Cost: $40.00 (US)

Click here to purchase…

I have critiqued the wiki revolution (see posts in 2005 and in 2006) because I worried about the garbage-in garbage-out problem. That is, how can consumers of wikized information know whether the information is valid? Previously, the knowledge culture has relied on editors, peer-reviewers, and publishers to vet information prior to publication.

Wikipedia has come to recognize this problem and is taking steps to lessen it. See their WikiProject Fact and Reference Check webpage. As you browse Wikipedia today, you’ll often see pages marked with the warning, "This [entry] does not adequately cite its references or sources. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources."

This is a great first step. Whether it is enough, we will see. It probably depends on the topic area discussed.

And to be balanced, we must recognize that any influence can tilt content toward one truth or another, whether that influence is an editor or an admonition to cite reliable sources. Therefore, my next recommendation is to formalize alternative interpretations within wiki technology and practice. The wiki interface sometimes formalizes and encourages a "one-truth" paradigm, so where one truth is inadequate, the technology needs to encourage a different sort of mental model, one that allows information consumers to feel the heat, sweat, and uncertainty of the truth-building process.

Apple_iphone

Apple’s new iPhone is really quite amazing. I’m not usually a gadget guy, but you ought to check this out. It really has some great potential as an m-learning device. It will have some of the same limitations of any m-learning device, but it does give us a good glimpse of the future. Check out Steve Job’s introduction of the iPhone by clicking here. Job’s keynote is not only interesting for the content. It’s great theater as well. I clicked on it to find a quote, but I ended up watching almost the whole damn keynote. I found it inspiring. And I don’t think it was inspiring because I was once the proud owner of the first line of the Apple Macintosh’s—the one’s with the 128K disk drives. SMILE.

Of course, there is always a downside isn’t there. Check out this article from the NY Times on how Apple is restricting iPod and iTunes users in using music files. Is Apple in danger of losing it’s Teflon-coated image as the good-tech angel?

You can hear an analysis of the iPhone and Apple’s stock option troubles on the radio show OnPoint.

Apple_iphone_widescreen

Lev Grossman wrote the following in Time Magazine.

"Everybody hates their phone," Jobs says, "and that’s not a good thing. And there’s an opportunity there." To Jobs’s perfectionist eyes, phones are broken. Jobs likes things that are broken. It means he can make something that isn’t and sell it to you for a premium price.

This brilliant business analysis ought to relate to our industry as well. What’s out there in the training-and-development, e-learning, learning-and-performance field that is broken? What can we fix? What can we get people to actually pay for?

Stay tuned for my answers to these questions over the next couple years. And leave your comments about what is broken and what can be fixed.

Today’s New York Times has a nice article on how games are being used to help people learn about real-world issues like the Middle-East Conflict.

The article does a really nice job of reviewing the "serious games" movement, including the passion of the developers and the thin research support for effectiveness (as of yet).

I’m inclined to think these serious games can have profound learning benefits, but that  measurements of effectiveness are probably difficult to get right.

Also design difficulties include:

  1. Insuring the correctness of the cause-and-effect relationships in the game.
  2. Insuring that the design doesn’t distract from the main points.
  3. Insuring that the game itself generates attention to the most important points.
  4. Being sure that other methods aren’t more efficient and/or effective.